For most visitors to Krabi province, Krabi Town is just a short stop-off before heading to either Railay beach or the islands of Koh Phi Phi or Koh Lanta. But after Koh Samui, Krabi Town feels like a cultural paradise.
Even without the comparison, the town is a sweet, easily walkable quiet spot, with as many small welcoming bars with live music as there are open-air local kitchens, not to mention the bustling night market that boasts a huge variety of freshly cooked street food and a large central stage that hosts entertainment for the locals by the locals.
Stay a few days here and you get a feel of some real Thai character, get treated to some excellent musicians playing Thai folk music mixed with covers of western classics, and meet some lovely people – people who haven’t had their minibus booked straight through to the party islands.
But there’s also some attractions that warrant attention on their own. Wat Tham Seua (Tiger Caves Temple) is one such, the main attraction of which, a large golden Buddha, sits restfully at the summit of some 1,260 steps. Those with iron calves, or just of unflappable will, are treated to spectacular views, monkeys playing in the trees and an up-close examination of Buddha’s tiny nipples.
We also visited the Emerald Pools, a national park of freshwater ponds and streams. It reminded me of a low-rent Semuc Champey in Guatemala, apart from the furthest pool, which looks like something out of a fairy tale: bright blue water, bubbles rising from its bed, all covered over head by jungle canopy. Alas, a sign forbids swimming in this particular pool, due to dangerous “sucking mud”. Also, avoid coming here on the weekend, as it seems to be a popular place for local schools to take children on a day out. You’ll spend any time wading in the crowded ponds being laughed at by Thai kids.
But the most remarkable place we visited was the local hot spring waterfall. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Before reaching the falls, you pass a system of manmade bathing pools. They are so hot, they border on the uncomfortable… but not quite. Once you’re in those naturally heated baths, you feel your aches and pains melting away. And after a while you think, “I can’t wait to get into the waterfall and cool down.”
No dice, sucker. This mother’s steamin’.
But you don’t care, you’re still too astonished; first by the waterfall’s sheer beauty, then by how bloody hot it is. The water all emanates from a central pool that then cascades over smooth rocks into smaller tubs, all deep enough to submerge yourself up to your shoulders, as it meanders its way down to a river at the bottom. It’s like a perfectly designed water playground, with 40-degree water tumbling over it, all shaded from the hot sun by a canopy of trees. Breath-taking.
As we finally, reluctantly, were leaving, we came across the proverbial snake in the metaphorical garden. Which is a shit analogy, because the snake was actually a spider…
The largest spider I’d seen previously was the mammoth beast my friend Roost and I hunted down in our Leicestershire garden in the summer of 2003. A friend had said the creature had leapt at them and then escaped into the shed. So we taped plastic bags over our shoes, wore rubber gloves and covered ourselves in makeshift armour for fear of venomous bites before going in after it.
Once the battle had unfolded, and the arachnid snared, we were releasing it in the street when some drug dealers approached us to have a look at what these two white guys with pans on their heads were doing.
“Is that a black widow, yeah?”
“Um, no, it’s a house spider.”
“Can I hold it bruv?”
He dropped it immediately. Suddenly, me, Roost, these two dealers and some curious passer-by were on all fours trying to catch the spider as it scampered under a car. When finally one of the dealers managed to corner it with two massive wads of cash, we were treated to the perfect guide as to its size, for it lay spread-eagled over the Queen’s face on a £20 note, covering Her Majesty’s head completely.
I mention this because the spider we saw in Krabi was bigger than the Queen’s ACTUAL HEAD. I jest not. It was the biggest, most evil thing I have ever seen outside of my own nightmares. You could practically hear it breathing.
Alas, our camera had run out of battery filming monks setting off firecrackers at the temple, so I have no record of this accursed creature. I can only assure you as to this tale’s veracity.
A final word on the region’s picture postcard destination – Railay beach. It’s as stunning as the pictures make it out. Bordered by towering karst cliffs that jut out and over the sea, the area has two separate white beaches, clear water and is covered in several breeds of monkey that either eat the leaves in the trees, or raid the bins for plastic bags and polystyrene.
The path between each side of the peninsula winds below overhanging limestone cliffs, with stalactites that range from a foot long to 20-30 metres. There’s also a number of caves, with H R Geiger-esque glistening walls of alien shapes. One of these caves has become a Buddhist shrine to fertility. You’re once again wondering whether the rituals here are ancient or invented for the amusement of tourists, but, either way, the fertility cave is absolutely teeming with wooden cocks.
The only problem with Railay, at least now in January, is how sodding crowded it is. There’s nary a space to sit on the beach and the restaurants are all three times as expensive as in Krabi Town. If you’re coming here for a couple of weeks, by all means splash out and stay in Railay, because it is certainly beautiful, but Swarana and I were rather hoping for more secluded beaches, and a bit more bang for our buck.
They do say you should be careful what you wish for, but I’ll go into that next time.
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